In news that should come as no surprise to those closely following the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga, the office of South Carolina attorney general Alan Wilson will not seek the death penalty against disbarred lawyer/ accused killer Alex Murdaugh.
Murdaugh stands accused of murdering his wife, 52-year-old Maggie Murdaugh, and their younger son, 22-year-old Paul Murdaugh, sometime after 8:44 p.m. EDT on June 7, 2021 near the dog kennels on the family’s 1,700-acre hunting property – known locally as Moselle.
Paul Murdaugh was hit by a pair of shotgun blasts on that fateful evening – one to the head, the other to the arm and chest. Maggie Murdaugh was killed by multiple rounds from a semi-automatic rifle around the same time her son was killed. At least two of Maggie Murdaugh’s gunshot wounds were inflicted as she was lying wounded on the ground – consistent with initial reports we received of “execution-style” slayings.
Murdaugh has pleaded not guilty to both murder charges and is scheduled to stand trial beginning on January 23, 2023. He has been held without bond at the Alvin S. Glenn detention center in Columbia, S.C. since last October.
Murdaugh’s attorneys – state senator Dick Harpootlian and veteran Columbia, S.C. trial lawyer Jim Griffin – have scored some key wins during pretrial maneuvering, most notably the uncovering of some potentially damning inconsistencies regarding a key piece of forensic evidence against their client.
It is not immediately clear whether these issues motivated the state’s decision not to seek the death penalty, but probably not …
The main reason? Death penalty laws are not being enforced in the Palmetto State.
South Carolina provides for the death penalty in murder cases in which a “statutory aggravating circumstance is found beyond a reasonable doubt.” These aggravating circumstances are specifically enumerated in the S.C. Code of Laws (§ 16-3-20) – and are determined on a case-by-case basis in proceedings which are held separately from the murder trial once a guilty plea or verdict has been entered into the record.
You can read all about how the process works in this article I published back in July … but for the moment, it’s all purely an academic exercise.
The Palmetto State has not carried out an execution since May 6, 2011 – and recent changes to its capital punishment laws are currently tied up in court. Even if an inmate were to be condemned to death, the S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC) has no way of carrying out the sentence. Earlier this year, the S.C. supreme court halted a pair of scheduled executions after death row inmates challenged the Palmetto State’s new law – which would have permitted executions by electrocution (or firing squad) in the event lethal injection was unavailable.
Death penalty trials – and the subsequent appeals process – are also incredibly costly to taxpayers, although there is a paucity of authoritative research as to exactly how costly they are. A recent report from Tony Pipitone of NBC Miami underscored the difficulty of making accurate assessments.
“The exact taxpayer costs of investigating, prosecuting, defending, trying, appealing and carrying out a death sentence in Florida is impossible to determine,” Pipitone noted. “Police, state attorneys and public defenders offices, for example, don’t separately track the time their employees, attorneys and staff spend on such cases above and beyond what they might on a case where death is not sought as a punishment.”
Perhaps most relevant to the decision in the Murdaugh case? Time … specifically, the massive amount of it the defendant is already staring down related to other components of these investigations.
Murdaugh is currently facing 99 individual charges related to “schemes to defraud victims” of nearly $9 million – and deprive the taxpayers of South Carolina of nearly half a million dollars. All of those charges have been leveled by the statewide grand jury – and are being prosecuted by Wilson’s office.
If convicted on all of these charges, Murdaugh could be imprisoned for a staggering 928 years.
RELATED | ALEX MURDAUGH INDICTED FOR TAX EVASION
Wilson’s office does not have to notify Murdaugh’s attorneys – or the public – in the event it declines to seek the death penalty. Its only affirmative obligation would be to notify Harpootlian or Griffin if it did decide to seek the death penalty – which it would need to do within thirty days of the trial.
That deadline would expire at midnight on Christmas Eve (December 24, 2022), however sources familiar with the situation say the decision not to seek the death penalty has already been communicated to prosecutors.
According to the S.C. Code of Laws (§ 16-3-26), “whenever the solicitor seeks the death penalty he shall notify the defense attorney of his intention to seek such penalty at least thirty days prior to the trial of the case.”
UPDATE: Wilson’s office has issued a statement from the attorney general …
“After carefully reviewing this case and all the surrounding facts, we have decided to seek life without parole for Alex Murdaugh. Because this is a pending case, we cannot comment further.”
UPDATE II: Harpootlian and Griffin have issued a statement …
“We are not surprised but also welcome the decision to not seek the death penalty for Alex Murdaugh. Now there is no impediment for going ahead with the trial scheduled for January 23, when we look forward to evidence, not leaks, determining the outcome.”
THE POLL …
What do you think? Vote in our poll and post your thoughts in our always-engaging comments section below …
Should the state of South Carolina seek the death penalty against Alex Murdaugh?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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The reason I voted yes for the state to seek the death penalty for Alex Murdaugh is because there is more than one dead body, and because it was so heinous. But, I am mindful that the T-shirt could cause a problem for the prosecution in trying to seek the death penalty.
Alex’s clothes in the above picture feel eerie to me. Paul wore a similar outfit in court over the boating accident before he was killed. Different shirt, but the navy blazer, khaki pants are the same look. Even the expression on Alex’s face is similar to Paul’s. I wonder if there’s something psychologically going on there. I don’t know. Just an observation.
I say no. If Alex Murdaugh is convicted of his embezzlement from clients and the firm, money laundering, drugs, computer fraud, and sentenced for each crime to the max, then he will be sentenced for years beyond his expected lifespan remaining. Isn’t the current sentencing estimated to be 928 years? I made the assumption that Murdaugh was a wealthy person, however, reading FitsNews, his “wealth” was a financial house of cards. But for his presumed wealth, he lived with wealth and privilege.
They should be looking for the real killers:Free Alex!